Retirement will have to wait for Leroy Pronia

Rita LeBleu

Pronia’s is set to re-open late August/early September. The family-owned-and-operated deli and bakery at 3101 Kirkman has been a Lake Charles staple for more than 20 years and it is coming back bigger and better.

“The hurricane took the roof off the deli and bakery and the rain poured in, destroying everything,” said Bryan Bergeron, son-in-law of Pronia’s owner Leroy Pronia. “We decided to make some lemonade out of this lemon.”

A new business, located across the side street will be added to the mix: The Venue at Pronia’s.

“The 2,300-square-foot building will be used for special occasions, business meetings, baby showers and small wedding receptions,” said Bergeron. 

All it will or can be for the community is still up in the air. It could be a new Saturday gathering place that serves beignets and adult beverages in the morning and a single, big-pot menu item —gumbo, red beans and rice or spaghetti and meatballs  — for lunch and dinner.

“We might have live music on the weekends,” Bergeron said.

In addition to the new venue, look for a larger parking area. The deli and bakery will also be significantly more spacious in the new 4,938 square-foot building, and that includes more room for dining. The interior will be lighter and brighter, featuring large windows across the front. Look for a few new menu items. None of that frozen stuff out of the back of a truck but Bergeron’s own creations: the iconic Pronia’s bread dough pulled around a special ground Italian sausage and fried crisp and the Artichoke Del-Mosca, named after Leonard Delviso, a long-time veterinarian and Louis Mosca, a fire chief who worked with The Port of Lake Charles board.

The rebuild was a family and local business affair. Bergeron and his son-in-law Wesley built the tables. The new HVAC is from ATR Air, located right behind Pronia’s. The flooring is from Kenny Fuselier & Company, a business neighbor and the windows and doors are from Grand Views by Tate, adjacent to Pronias.

Bergeron runs the bakery business along with his two daughters, Jilleen and Jessica. His wife, Jill, keeps the grandchildren so everyone else can work.

“My father-in-law is a McNeese horticulture graduate and worked first as a landscaper and tree surgeon,” Bergeron said. “But he had a pet store, a clothing store and Pronia’s was a flower shop until the early ’90s. Just about every one of those businesses was right here on Kirkman Street.”

Pronia planted the oak trees that line the road to the Lake Charles Regional Airport.

“I’ve always had two jobs,” said Pronia, “including fireman at one time.

The Pronia businesses have always been successful. At the close of the flower business, Leroy and Annette Pronia had over 4,000 customer accounts.

Pronia is a jocular raconteur, a real character who continues to be much like his cousin Rosalee Papania described him as a boy: “He’s not bad, he’s just mischievous,” she told everyone. He attributes the family’s business successes to being blessed, being hyper-active, embracing change and to his marriage and business partner.

“She really saved me,” he said.

Annette Marie Hebert Pronia died in 2020.

Leroy is of Sicilian descent, but Pronia was not likely the family’s actual surname. The Pirrones were from Bisacquino, a town in Sicily, Italy. His grandfather immigrated to New Orleans. His father grew up in Vinton and was a Lake Charles barber. Leroy grew up on Battle Row (Railroad Avenue) amongst Lebanese, Italian, Black and French families. He partnered with his late brother, Joseph, eight years his senior, in various enterprises. Pronia bought out the business belonging to Joseph and his wife Nancy after Joseph died. Joseph and Nancy’s son, Ricky, still has a place in the business, as does Leroy’s son, Lee.

Pronia’s DNA might be Sicilian, but he grew up thoroughly immersed in Cajun culture. For both those cultures, the focus is on family.

“They were going to keep the flower shop and do the deli thing with the goal of just selling enough sandwiches to make a salary for their children, Jill and Lee.” Bergeron said. “Long story short, the business boomed.”

Leroy and Annette Pronia finally sold the flower shop and thought they would retire.

“After a couple of weeks, Leroy caught everything up at home and was ready to come back,” Bergeron said.

“I told them I’d give them five more years and I would retire at 57,” Pronia said. “I had planned to retire at 55.”

Today, he’s 84 and still handles the finances. When he’s telling a story and listing names, dates and places, he stops on occasion to say, “Are you following me?”

The Pronia family will work in the business and be successful, but Leroy has a larger-than-life personality, an act not easily followed.

“I would hate to think I lived my life wanting to try something and didn’t do it because I was afraid to fail,” Pronia said.                        

””

Leroy Pronia stands in front of his family-owned-and-operated deli / bakery that is set to reopen in late August or early September at 3101 Kirkman St.

Special to the American Press

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